A couple of weeks ago I watched a 30 minute documentary on Channel 4 in its Dispatches strand, Ryanair: Secrets from the Cockpit. At the core of the programme were the results of a survey of the members of the Ryanair Pilot Group. The name of the Group would naturally suggest that it comprises a membership of Ryanair pilots, although it has been cast in various lights, including a suggestion that it is in fact a method of seeking unionisation of the Ryanair pilots at the instigation of other, already unionised, European pilots.
The information disclosed in the programme was generally not new and broadly underwhelming. We “learned” that Ryanair is firmly focused on saving costs and this includes carrying limited fuel loads which, significantly, are above the legal minimum. Separately it was recently reported that pilots have been asked to extend flight times, apparently by an average two minutes per one hour 10 minutes, thereby saving costs by reducing fuel consumption.
It was a little surprising that pilots appear to be scored on a league table according to the extent of savings made. While some may deprecate such an approach, it cannot be said that it follows that safety is likely to be impaired as a result, although this was the clear implication
Earlier this year but with rather less press coverage, at least in the UK, similar allegations were made in a book Ryanair. Low cost mais à quel prix? written under the pseudonym Christian Fletcher “to protect the pilot from being sacked”. The author criticised Ryanair’s “obsession” with cutting aviation fuel costs and suggested quick turn-round times contributed to the stress of employees and that staff worked in a “permanent climate of fear, with tactics of intimidation and punishment”. Ryanair’s response to the publication of the book was to state that the matter was the subject of a “criminal investigation” and that no further comment would be made.
Fast forward to this month and in a step presaged by the writer of the French book, the only pilot identified in the Dispatches programme was sacked the following day. According to Ryanair Mr Goss was dismissed for “gross misconduct”, having made “defamatory statements”. In a press release issued last Thursday Ryanair Pilots Group Chairman Evert van Zwol stated:
It is simply extraordinary that the immediate reaction of Ryanair to safety issues brought to their attention is to deny the existence of any problems and to effectively shoot the messenger. Safety experts are agreed that a sound safety culture is based on pilots having faith in a non-punitive approach and dealing directly and transparently with all concerns raised…Dismissing John further calls into question the trustworthiness and truthfulness of Ryanair management when it comes to the traditional industry norm of free discussion of safety issues in the public domain. Their chosen approach is apparently to suppress discussion, on grounds that have never been clarified.
The press release goes on to quote harsh criticism of Ryanair made by High Court Judge Mr Justice Peter Kelly in prior litigation.
The dismissal of Captain Goss attracted widespread press coverage. As well as announcing defamation proceedings against Captain Goss and Channel 4, Ryanair’s response to the coverage was to launch libel proceedings against the publishers of the Daily Mail, the Daily Mirror and the Belfast Telegraph (subsequently dropped after publication of an apology). What will probably be more difficult for the airline to respond to are criticisms made by politicians including French Transport Minister Frédéric Cuvillier and Labour MP Barry Sheerman, Chairman of the Parliamentary Advisory Council for Transport Safety,
Do we live in a society in which whistleblowing, even if misplaced, is or should be welcomed or deprecated? As I reported last month, even if whistleblowing involves the whistleblower acting in bad faith, in this jurisdiction that is reflected in the compensation recoverable rather than the entitlement to make the claims in the first place. You must make up your own mind – I couldn’t possibly comment!
As for the suggestion that all publicity is good publicity this article by Zoe Williams in The Guardian is well worth reading.